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School officials to wait and see effect of test changes

By Trina Trice

As the Georgia Board of Education recently made changes to the kinds of standardized tests students take, educators and school administrators can only wait to see whether or not student test performance will improve.

Following a debacle involving the scoring of the Stanford 9 norm-referenced test published by Harcourt Brace last summer, state school administrators replaced the test with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, produced by the Riverside Publishing Company.

Referring to the Stanford 9, Dr. Ray Blakely, coordinator of Student Assessment for Clayton County Schools, said, "Last year, the second year of the test, the results were not valid because the test was not equivalent to the first year. They didn't statistically match."

Due to the mix-up, the state BOE decided to make changes.

"The contract with Harcourt Brace for the Stanford 9 was not terminated; it ran out at the end of June in 2002," said Nick Smith, communications specialist for the state Department of Education. "The Board did not renew the contract when it expired June 30, 2002. In August 2002, the SBOE issued a request for quotes (RFQ) to potential vendors to administer the norm-referenced tests.

Riverside was the only test vendor that offered the most reasonable bid. In October 2002, Riverside signed a new contract with the state BOE. The test costs $1.59 per student, based on the number of students that take the test. The cost is fixed throughout the contract and all of the renewals. Every contract is year-to-year and is renewable annually at the Board's option until June 2007. The contract could be renewed five times.

There is no cost to local school systems that administer the Iowa Tests in grades 3, 5, and 8.

State law requires that students in grades 3, 5, and 8 take a norm-referenced. The law mandates that such testing must include reading, mathematics, science, and social studies, and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills fulfills that requirement.

Schools were notified by the state DOE and Riverside in October 2002 when Riverside signed the new contract, Smith said.

Earlier this year, Deputy Superintendent Stuart Bennett sent a letter to all system superintendents and test coordinators notifying them of the test change and gave them the option of administering the test in either the spring of 2003 or the fall of school year 2003-04.

Clayton County students are taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in the fall of the 2003-2004 school year, Blakely said.

The Iowa Test is similar to the Stanford 9 in that both tests cover the same content areas?math, reading, science and social studies?but with different approaches, Smith said.

Scores from a norm-referenced test are used to compare the performance of Georgia's students with the performance of students in a national sample, in the same grade who took the test at the same point in the school year.

As for other testing fourth, sixth, and eighth grade students completed the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test this week.

Last year, all elementary and middle school students took the CRCT, although the test scores from students in grades 4, 6, and 8 are used in assessing students' and a school's academic performance.

"Any adjustment to our assessments at such a late date in the school year will undoubtedly present challenges to educators throughout the state," said Kathy Cox, state school superintendent. "I pledge that we have done and will continue to do everything we can to preserve the integrity of our

accountability systems and the data we derive from them. Moreover, we will work to minimize the impact of these changes on teachers, students and programs, and to ensure that our students are never faced with the possibility of taking tests that cannot be relied upon."

The previous CRCT contract, awarded under the last state DOE administration to Riverside in October 2002, had been the subject of a bid protest filed with the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS). The state DOAS ordered a re-solicitation of the contract and immediately rescinded the contract Riverside Publishing had with the state BOE.

Due to the timing of the rescission and the challenge of administering the Spring 2003 CRCT through a resolicitation, the state DOE decided to pursue an emergency procurement contract with Riverside, in accordance with state law.

"We are committed to accountability in Georgia, and will not deliver a faulty product to our schools," Cox said. "Putting our students and teachers through the rigors of a test that we know to be compromised would be both unethical and irresponsible."

Blakely said he didn't see any direct or immediate effects of the CRCT change on the students.

According to state law, "By July 1, 2003 each local board of education shall develop, adopt and implement policy that

bases the placement or promotion of a student into a grade, class or program on an assessment of the academic achievement of the student and a determination of the education setting in which the student is most likely to receive instruction and other

services needed in order to succeed and progress to the next higher level of academic achievement. Further, the policy shall specify how the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests administered in all grades 1-8 will be weighted."

The new law would have required students in grades 3, 5, and 8 to perform at their grade level on the CRCT before they could be promoted to grades 4, 6, and 9, respectively.

The law was supposed to affect third-graders beginning with the 2003-2004 school year.

"That's something the state BOE is aware of" and dealing with, Blakely said. "This current school year, the CRCT won't have an effect on promotion, though."

As for how teachers are dealing with the test changes, Roberts Middle School Principal Gloria Adams has seen some effect.

"It's been quiet and calm, the students have been taking the test seriously," Adams said. "But there have been some disappointment from some science and social studies teachers, though, because they won't be able to compare results from last years test."

About the recent changes with the Iowa Test and the CRCT Roberts Middle School parent Tom McBrayer said, "I accept the necessity of testing, but I have had a concern for years that was heightened when they shifted to the Stanford 9 and the problems they encountered. There is too much emphasis placed on testing and teaching students how to take a test, instead of teaching them a more balanced curriculum.

"What I want to know is ?Is this better, worse, or is it just the same?' These tests are only valuable when parents can see results over time and every year we can compare the same apples."